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Walk it out

When facing a specific problem or challenge in your writing, try walking it out.

The relationship between creativity and walking has been cherished for centuries, with authors and thinkers from Fredirick Nietzsche and Sylvia Plath to Steve Jobs and Clare Balding professing the power of a stroll to clear a foggy mind and kickstart a stalled imagination. 

Creative writing requires engagement from both sides of the brain to construct a clear narrative while telling a compelling story: left side for logical, linear thinking and right side for creativity and intuition. It could be then that the continuous rhythmic shift from right to left encourages cooperation between both sides of our minds in solving problems that stump us at our desks. 

‘Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.’

Henry David Thoreau

In recent months, I’ve found added pressures at home between work and family as well as various anxieties have left me struggling to make simple decisions about my characters and their stories: ‘Should she discover the secret in a letter or a phone call? Should their reunion happen in a rainy street or a dark bar? Would a student really say that to his mentor?’

To my delight, I’ve discovered that by setting specific questions to answer while walking, I engage my ‘whole’ mind and work things out. I’ve had answers to sticky plot points, narrative fumbles, and stalled dialogue all reveal themselves when set to be answered on the move.

Intentional walking, like this, is different from an aimless amble to clear the head or glean inspiration from a change of scene (that’s another wonderful writer’s tool). This type of walking lets us dive further into ourselves for answers and inspiration that already exist inside of us but may just need the cooperation of both sides of the brain to unpick. 

‘Walk it out’ in five steps

  1. Review your work-in-progress (WIP) before you head out — whether it’s notes on an idea or your final paragraph — whatever you’re hoping to address that day. 
  2. Set yourself a specific question or problem to solve on your walk. Say it aloud and then write it down before you go. (For instance, one question I walked with recently was: ‘Will they head North or South and why?’) The more specific the question the better. This forces you to leave everything else at the door and frees your mind to focus on the task under foot. 
  3. Plot your walking course before you set off — remember, this is not an aimless ramble — it is an internal treasure hunt. Relieve yourself of navigational decisions by setting your legs on autopilot, so your mind can set off down unknown, internal paths. 
  4. Bring a notebook to record brief notes and remind yourself of your mission. This type of walking is a mental exercise. Just as with meditation, if your mind wanders, ask yourself your question out loud again to refocus your attention. 
  5. Once you’re home, write out what you’ve walked out. Even if it doesn’t seem like a direct answer — or the ‘right’ answer — more often than not, progress has been made and you’ll have something new to build on. (This week, in response to my earlier question, I walked out that ‘they will head North if they’re going to find water to survive’.)

So, next time you’re struggling with a particular aspect of your writing, try heading out the door with intention and let the rhythm of your steps do the rest. 

About Sally Hodgkinson

Sally writes short fiction and is working on her debut collection. She finds learning about others' experiences through stories essential for healthy living. When she isn't writing or reading, she helps people communicate and connect more effectively to promote social change.'


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